The Search Chapter One

Rated Parental Guidance

"If the Wanderers ever were a species of their own, that fact is lost to history. There is indeed truth in the saying 'If you want to see all the species in the galaxy, look at a Wanderer.'"

Admiral Hroljarus Andruvar of the Stellar Navy put the book away with a sigh of disgust. Another self-righteous rant of the evils of the Wanderers, the mongrels that roamed the galaxy aboard ships that always seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. One thing the old wolf absolutely forbade aboard his ship was being derogatory to the Wanderers.

He sat alone in his room, and thought about the past several years. When he had been promoted to Rear Admiral, he had decided to remain flying, totally against tradition. He'd been given a ship, all right, the most antiquated rustbucket in the fleet, and a crew, the greatest pack of misfits in the StellNav. There was Arctos Aponaphelma, a huge wolverine who'd been a professional Ringfighter before he was drafted; his best friend Ursus Atorell Pandion, a Pine Martin; Alran Sharl, an Opossum who was supposed retire years ago; Ryramorl Ra'yral, a lynx who'd actually been convicted of attempted murder...

That had been a disaster of a trial. The court case was so involved in politics that they were still wrangling over the final verdict, and would probably do so long after Ryramorl died.

Apparently, the High Command had hoped to drive him to give up space. A rattletrap for a ship, a bunch of losers for a crew, and all they had to do was wait for him to give up in disgust. More than a decade later, they were still waiting.

Aponaphelma, as the wolverine preferred to be called, had become his second-in-command, Atorell was his engineer, Alran his navigator. The rest of the crew had found places where they fit in best. The High Command whines nonstop about none of the crews working as a team, Hroljarus mused, and yet, what was supposed to be the worst crew in the StellNav become exactly that. The fact that we've been stuck with each other for a dozen years probably has something to do with it.

He stood up, stretched, and went to the bridge of the ship. "Status report."

A scrawny cat replied, "All systems look good. We should be coming into the Home System within two hours."

"If the ship lasts that long." Hroljarus grumbled. "We should be getting a new ship on arrival, though."

Upon arrival, the crew went on shore leave. Hroljarus changed into his seldom-worn dress uniform, then went to the Stellar Navy headquarters to give a report. Grand Admiral Syral, a lynx who looked like he'd long gone to flab, was about the only person in the Stellar Navy High Command that Hroljarus actually liked. They had been cadets together, then ensigns, moving up through the ranks side by side. Syral had accepted desk jobs when he was promoted to Rear Admiral, and had stayed there. Hroljarus had remained flying.

Syral smiled as he saw his old friend enter. "Ironic, no? Here I am, Grand Admiral of the StellNav, and I haven't stepped aboard a ship in years."

Hroljarus chuckled. "Actually, what's ironic is that we are the only two Admirals who have EVER stepped aboard a ship. The others wouldn't know the bridge from the biff."

Syral cackled with glee. "Of course the fact that you're an admiral means you can say that sort of thing," he chuckled.

"No, the fact that I'm a spaceman means I can say that sort of thing. The fact that I'm an admiral just means I don't get in trouble for it."

The two talked about old times, then Syral got down to business. "There's a new ship waiting for you, Hroljarus. Exceldor class. What this ship can do is basically run itself. All you need to do is stay aboard to keep an eye on things."

"I'm the only one needed?"

"Just you."

The old wolf sighed. "What about the rest of the crew?"

"They're not necessary. The ship is designed to repair itself, but it may need instructions if something unusual shows up. That's the only reason we need someone aboard."

Hroljarus folded his arms across his chest and looked the lynx straight in the eye. "I'm going nowhere without my crew."

"We're being WHAT?" roared Aponaphelma.

"Re-assigned." Lieutenant Orrin, a small brown rabbit was getting very tired of this big galoot's little temper tantrum.

Aponaphelma couldn't believe his ears. "And the High Command wonders why no groups ever work together. They get a team, and what do they do? Break it up!"

"Don't kill the messenger." Orrin snapped. "I'm only following orders."

"It takes a stupid officer to follow stupid orders." growled Alran.

"Well, there's a lot of good retirement homes out there!" snapped Orrin.

"None of which I can afford."

"Not my fault."

"Will we ever see each other again?"

"Doubtful," sneered Orrin. "The Stellar Navy is a big place."

Orders were orders, but this crew wasn't going to give in to this piece of tripe without a fight.

Hroljarus and Syral stared at each other for a few minutes, then the lynx smiled. "The crew's been scattered all across the fleet. However, you know what rank is for? Pulling." He handed Hroljarus a form. "All you need to do is request the crew you want." Hroljarus filled it out, putting the names of his old crew in. "It says here that another admiral has to second this."

Syral took the form back, and signed it. "That should be enough. Go get your crew, and then we can debrief you on your first mission."

The crew was still down at the Spacers Tavern, saying goodbye to each other. They had received their new assignments, and were taking their own sweet time with their partings. Lieutenant Orrin was watching the proceedings with rapidly increasing impatience. Hroljarus came up, and greeted his crew. Alran stood up. "Well, we've been pretty much scattered across the fleet. None of us will be with each other again. I'm being retired." He sighed. "I guess this is it, sir."

The lieutenant spoke up. "Yes, this is it! You have your orders..."

"And they've been changed." snapped Hroljarus. "Do you know what rank I hold, lieutenant?"

Orrin looked him up and down. "Admiral," he sighed, saluting.

"That means I can rewrite orders if I think it is best. My crew has been re-assigned to the Exceldor A."

"You need the approval of a second admiral to do that!"

Hroljarus handed him the form. "Recognize that signature?"

"Grand Admiral Syral's," was the mumbled reply.

Hroljarus turned to his grinning crew. "Shore leave is ended for the moment. The briefing is at 1700 hours. Be there."

His tone was crisp, but he gave the lieutenant plenty of opportunity to observe the smug grin on his face.